Recycling in West Devon is Rubbish

Laura White
Laura White

After a call to the office from a Moorlander reader, The Moorlander thought it important to investigate plastic recycling across the Dartmoor area.

Different borough councils have different recycling rules and it appears that this is accepted without challenge. But why can Teignbridge residents put plastic packaging in their kerbside boxes and West Devon cannot? South Hams can only recycle plastic bottles, but you can put Tetra Paks in your collection boxes – something you can’t do in West Devon or Teignbridge.

The subject of what can and can’t be accepted is a complicated one and that’s probably why no-one has looked too deeply into it. Councils obviously cite lack of money, room and equipment as the reason for refusing certain materials but with numerous processing plants across the South West, it does beg the question – why can’t all our waste be collated, separated and sent to the relevant place for recycling?

In West Devon, we can’t recycle anything other than plastic bottles in our kerbside boxes. But we can collect the yogurt pots, plastic trays and other plastic packaging and take it to Okehampton recycling centre which is run by Devon County Council. When enquiring as to where that packaging goes, we were told that it is combined with plastic bottles and sent to the processing plant at Greendale in Exeter. Once processed it is baled and sold to the highest bidder. Plastic bottles collected kerbside are baled at Hayedown near Tavistock, bundled up and sent off to a company in the East Midlands. Teignbridge also sends their plastic to the East Midlands, and don’t forget they collect all types of plastic, but we were unable to find out if it’s sent to the same place.

In an email from the Waste Team in West Devon, we learnt that they have ‘considered collecting all types of plastic on the kerbside, however this is likely to end up costing the council to have the material recycled, or at least reducing the amount of income we get for the material.’ Teignbridge recycling is sent to their bulking station in Newton Abbot where it is sorted, ready to be sent across the country to the relevant processing plants.

There is also commercial waste to consider. Devon Contract Waste is an independent company that deals with commercial waste, promising that no waste is sent to landfill. When talking to the managing director, Simon Almond, he said that China’s decision to close its doors to UK plastic waste has had a massive effect on product price.

“This is the biggest shake up in the industry I’ve ever seen” he said. He explained how China has huge processing plants and until recently had taken 24 different types of waste for recycling but exporting our plastics is no longer an option. This has meant that the price of plastic, especially low grade mixed polymer plastic, has dropped and the cost of processing it into new products outweighs the cost of simply making it from scratch.

Simon believes that the only way our existing plastics can continue to be recycled is if the government brings in new legislation to support the manufacturing industries, for example making it compulsory that any new plastic product must contain at least 50% recycled plastic. This would create a demand, the price would rise and there would be more incentive to recycle. As the market stands currently, with no government backing and each borough council having to manage its own waste, we are likely to see a reduction in the types of plastic that can be collected and recycled.

Each borough council appears to be so disjointed from the others that there is no simple answer as to why there is such a difference in recycling collection. However if Simon’s prediction is correct, the current ‘trend’ in going plastic free has to be the only solution. Like any product, if the demand is there then production will continue. Ashburton is the latest town pledging to go plastic free and the Co-op and Spar have now stopped providing plastic carrier bags altogether.

We have become so used to having plastic in our lives that there probably isn’t any way to do away with it completely, but making choices such as buying milk in glass rather than plastic bottles, and choosing plastic free packaged products where possible, will force the hands of the powers that be and will hopefully demonstrate that the public is demanding something more be done on this War on Plastic.

Already there has been headway made. On 27th March, Greenpeace handed a petition, signed by over 300,000 people, to Environment Minister Michael Gove which called upon the government to take decisive action on plastic pollution.

The next day, the announcement was made that Britain would be introducing a bottle deposit scheme – something which Scotland had pledged to do last September. With people in the UK using 35 million plastic bottles a day, this is a big step towards creating a new paradigm for the UK with regard to single use plastic.

Michael Gove said: “We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans. We need to see a change in attitudes and behaviour. And the evidence shows that reward and return schemes are a powerful agent of change.”

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